Fifteen years ago, I graduated from high school and started college. It was a big year for me, but that’s not what makes me want to write about it.
As you know, James Cameron is re-releasing Titanic in 3D, 15 years after it broke records at the box office (those records would stick until 2009, when Cameron’s own Avatar beat them). I remember seeing the film on opening day and loving the hell out of it. Haters gonna hate, but there’s no denying that the picture is incredibly effective, both as a disaster movie and as a love story.
In general, 1997 was a pretty great year for cinema. The biggest flicks at the box office beside Titanic – Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the original Men in Black, Pierce Brosnan’s second turn as James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies, Harrison Ford as a terrorist-ass-kicking president in Air Force One – weren’t all that great, but there was plenty more to enjoy.
At the Oscars, the big winners – again, besides Titanic – were Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt for their performances in As Good As It Gets, plus Good Will Hunting (Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor) and L.A. Confidential (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress).
I loved all those films, but my personal favourites from 1997 – that is, the ones I’ve revisited the most often – are Quentin Tarantino’s Elmore Leonard adaptation / Blaxploitation homage Jackie Brown, Paul Verhoeven’s underrated excessive sci-fi satire Starship Troopers, Paul Thomas Anderson’s porn industry epic Boogie Nights, John Woo’s action thriller Face/Off and Jay Roach’s 60s spy movie spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
Music wise, 1997 was the breakthrough year for pop acts like the Spice Girls, Hanson and Puff Daddy, among others, but to me it was all about Radiohead. I was already a fan thanks to 1995′s The Bends, which was and remains to this day one of my all-time favourite LPs, but I was nonetheless blown away by the brilliance of OK Computer, an instant classic that pretty much changed music history. And not to gloat or anything, but I got to see Radiohead at Métropolis the summer that album came out and it was pretty, pretty, pretty good.
How about TV? NBC’s Must See TV Thursdays were more or less at their peak at the time, with a lineup that included E.R., Seinfeld and Friends. Loved the latter two (still do), but I might be even fonder of one show that debuted in 1997 and that’s still on the air 15 years later: Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s crudely animated, gloriously irreverent South Park.
I’m not sure I know what I’m reaching for by listing all of the above… It may just be nostalgia for the pop culture of a year that quite ruled in that regard, didn’t it? Or is it just me? I guess seeing how the re-release of Titanic does in theatres this weekend will give us an idea. I know I’ll be among those checking in with Jack and Rose. And I might as well listen to OK Computer again and watch a few early episodes of South Park for good measure!